A Sherlockian pastiche without Holmes and Watson? Yes indeed, and it’s a tour de force quite unlike any other fruit from these densely plowed fields.
It is 1891. Holmes and professor James Moriarty are both presumed dead after hurtling over Reichenbach Falls, though the only body that’s been recovered is thought to be that of a chef at the Englischer Hof. The Pinkerton Detective Agency has sent operative Frederick Chase to England to investigate rumors that Clarence Devereux, fresh from his triumphantly lucrative scheme to manipulate stock prices by sending false information over Western Union wires, has come to join Moriarty in an Anglo-American criminal empire—and, finding the Napoleon of crime deceased, has stayed to become his successor. Joining forces with DI Athelney Jones, whose admiration of Holmes is just this side of idolatry, Chase tries to trace the agoraphobic Devereux through his lieutenants Edgar and Leland Mortlake and safecracker Scotchy Lavelle. The only results of their search are a series of violent reprisals, and when they finally catch up with Devereux at a function hosted by American legate (and president’s son) Robert Todd Lincoln, he turns the tables on them with insolent ease, leaving them both scurrying to hang on to their jobs. Since Jones talks and acts just like Holmes and Chase is every bit as enterprising as Dr. Watson, they seem likely to run their quarry to earth, with pauses along the way for lightning deductions and a drastically compressed sequel to “The Red-Headed League.” But canny Sherlock-ian Horowitz (The House of Silk, 2011, etc.) still has more tricks up his sleeve.
Readers who aren’t put off by the Hollywood pacing, with action set pieces less like Conan Doyle than the Robert Downey Jr. movies, are in for a rare treat, a mystery as original as it is enthralling.
A New York safecracker forcibly turned secret agent takes on his corrupt bosses in this broad and brawling debut.
Part alternate history, part Gangs of New York, the tale opens with unwilling “Pilkington” (i.e., Pinkerton) agent Liam McCool infiltrating the violent Molly Magees in Pennsylvania’s coal fields. He teams up with intrepid journalist Becky Fox (plainly modeled on Nellie Bly), and from there, it’s on to the stews of 1877 Manhattan and over the Mississippi into Little Russia for clandestine meetings with European-educated freedom fighter Crazy Horse and his associate Laughing Wolf (formerly known as George Armstrong Custer). It seems that ruthless Secretary of War Edwin Stanton has hidden away the not-quite-assassinated Lincoln and placed the United States in a “temporary” state of emergency. Now he is using fear and flag-waving to bolster public support for a war to reclaim the western part of the continent—and worse. For good measure, O’Flaherty tucks in encounters with the likes of Mark Twain and genius “Predictive Engine” designer Ada Lovelace as well as plagues of weirdly oversized rats and other colorful details. His doughty duo plunges through frequent hails of gunfire and massive explosions into battles, gang-led riots and flights in speedy dirigible Black Deltas. Yet more demolition at the end leaves the door open for sequels.
As Liam remarks: “That ought to ginger them up.” He could be referring to readers of this rousingly violent, funny, sometimes shockingly profane opener.
Slimy all-American graft oozes from beneath the economic aspirations of contemporary China in this witty, illuminating thriller.
Walker’s impressive debut novel is a post-millennial noir thriller in which the grubbier impulses of two superpowers intersect with life-altering results. Among the lives being altered is that of Luke Slade, a casually cynical young man condemned to endure ridicule and abuse from his boorish boss, U.S. Rep. Leonard Fillmore, R-Calif., alias “Leo the Lyin’,” who’s dragged him along on some vaguely defined weeklong mission to the People’s Republic of China. On the second day, Luke loses the congressman, a professed born-again Christian and recovering alcoholic, in an all-night bender and must go in his stead to a rural province to discuss a major development deal. Somehow, Luke walks away from a meeting with the province’s mayor with a briefcase full of American cash. Luke suspects he’s been left “holding the bag” in more ways than one, and he frantically wanders from Beijing to Shanghai and back again trying to figure out what game he’s unwittingly playing and who’s pulling the strings. (It would also help if he could find his congressman, who’s still missing in action.) As if all that weren’t bad enough, Luke becomes the prime suspect in the murder of the mayor who dropped the bribe on him in the first place. The storyline grows murkier as Luke’s week from hell gets worse. But as is often the case with quality American literary thrillers, whathappensis ultimately less interesting than what’s in the background; in this case, detailed and tautly rendered tours of both the smoggy physical landscape of 21st-century China and the even mistier psychological terrain of an aimless American forced to negotiate a clear path between risk and responsibility.
Though its observations about China’s construction boom and the dismal state of American politics are as fresh as the morning news feed, Walker’s novel also feels like a disquieting peek deep into the coming decades of global economic upheaval.
Over a period of eight days, 17-year-old Shelby’s life is forever changed.
Home-schooled in Scottsdale, Arizona, the two things Shelby’s sure of are that her father is dead and that the world is a dangerous place. Her friend, Mark, tells her that “[t]hings are…starting to happen” right before she’s struck by a car, fracturing her foot. As she passes out, a coyote seems to give her a cryptic message about lies and a hard truth. From then on, Shelby’s life quickly unravels. Her once-shy mother’s behavior becomes erratic as she drives Shelby to Flagstaff and tells her that her father, not dead after all, may be chasing them. When Shelby closes her eyes, she finds herself in the Dreaming, where Mark is the trickster Coyote and where her recurring dream of a crying child in need of rescue takes on urgency. Counting down the days toward a life-altering revelation, Shelby steps in and out of the Dreaming, its fairy-tale castles, crones and changelings blended with the sacred Eagle and Coyote of Navajo legend. Discerning readers might pick up carefully planted indications that Shelby is deaf early on. The suspenseful, complicated story slowly spins out clues to Shelby’s life that have been hidden from her for years.
A fine exploration of the power of story itself to heal the unconscious from scars physical and emotional
. (Fiction. 13-17)
A murdered white supremacist sparks a remarkable investigation that is anything but straightforward.
It’s not often that the retelling of a brutal murder is full of laughs, but documentarian and debut author Safran is an entertaining writer. After becoming fascinated by the true-crime genre, in 2010, he heard about the murder of white supremacist Richard Barrett, whom he had once pranked for a TV series. Armed with some personal knowledge of the victim, Safran headed for Mississippi, where he expected to uncover a racially charged crime and a defendant deserving his sympathy. However, he discovered that Barrett’s black neighbors were mourning the victim, unaware that he was racist. That confusion was only the beginning. Whispers of homosexuality, possible schizophrenia and more continued to surface, with each new layer murkier than the last. Safran bounced among police and lawyers and families, neighbors, acquaintances and enemies of both the victim and perpetrator, and he documents every step, misstep, conspiracy theory and just plain weird encounter. While laughing at himself and the often absurd situations in which he was embroiled, Safran creates a rare animal: a true-crime account that provides no hard answers or even smoking guns but plenty of promised ones. The narrative moves in so many directions it feels like a carnival fun house—though it’s always a pleasurable reading experience. Safran never found a way to neatly wrap up the story. Instead, he presents all the layers and angles, portraying a world that is more than black and white, where sometimes the absolute truth is an impossible dream and the only option left is acceptance of a flawed mystery.
Weaving a tale that is simultaneously about race, failed systems, money, sex, family and simple rage, Safran truly did lose a year in Mississippi, and getting lost with him is a joy.
Sometimes lying is the only way to get to the truth for one teen in this British thriller.
As the niece of the most famous inmate in the country, the narrator, a first-year “uni” student, has changed her name to Louise Shepherd. But navigating her new identity is tricky when her latest friend is a budding investigative journalist and a computer-hacker classmate from her past turns up (on purpose?) in the same town. And then there’s young bartender Christian Webb, who has secrets of his own. Lou’s evenly paced narration is Hollywood-script–ready as readers learn bit by bit about her cousin who lies in a coma, her culpability in her uncle’s prison sentence and Christian’s connections to her family’s tragedies. As the story twists and turns even more with vigilante thugs and possible police coverups, Lou finds herself on the run and trying to prove Christian’s innocence. But she’s not sure whether proving his innocence is for him or her. And are her loyalties to her family or the one she now loves? Along with uncovering clues, Lou discovers that right and wrong become confused when feelings are involved.
Slight Briticisms make the fact-finding all the more interesting as readers keep guessing in this gripping whodunit.
(Thriller. 14 & up)
Everything you know about Russia is wrong, according to this eye-opening, mind-bending memoir of a TV producer caught between two cultures.
Born in Russia but raised in Europe, where he is now a London-based writer, Pomerantsev felt compelled to return to his homeland after the turn of the century: “I wanted to get closer: London seemed so measured, so predictable, the America the rest of my émigré family lived in seemed so content, while the real Russia seemed truly alive, had the sense that anything was possible.” He got more than he bargained for, an experience far different from anything he had anticipated, though he did return from Russia with a wife and daughter (barely mentioned until the end, where he also acknowledges that he has “scrunched time mercilessly to tell my story”). Instead of a cohesive overview or chronological progression, the author records his impressions more like a kaleidoscopic series of anecdotes and vignettes, absurd and tragic, with characters that might be tough to believe if they were presented as fiction. There are the legions of strikingly beautiful women who blur the distinction between gold digger and prostitute. There are the Night Wolves, a motorcycle gang that is “the Russian equivalent of the Hells Angels” but who “are bikers who have found a Russian God.” There is corruption at every level, from officials who prefer bribes to taxes to a criminal system in which “99% of those charged in Russia receive guilty verdicts.” There is also reality TV, which demands heroes and happy endings, even when the subject is a ravishing model who was either murdered or committed suicide after indoctrination by a brainwashing cult, which the author suggests are as inherently Russian as vodka. And there is “the great war between Holy Russia and the Godless West” in a Russia that both emulates and reviles the crass excesses of capitalism.
Not always cohesive, but the stylish rendering of the Russian culture, which both attracts and appalls the author, will keep the reader captivated.
A harrowing prison memoir, the first to date by an inmate who is behind bars at the Cuban penitentiary that has become a byword for an American gulag.
Slahi was caught up early in the post-9/11 sweep, suspected of having played a role. As he admits, he did fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan, “but then al Qaida didn’t wage Jihad against America….In the mid-90’s they wanted to wage Jihad against America, but I personally had nothing to do with that.” After turning himself in for questioning in his native Mauritania, Slahi was “rendered” to Jordan and interrogated for eight months before the Jordanians decided he was innocent. A Marine prosecutor recalls that the CIA, managing Slahi’s fate, “just kind of threw him over to U.S. military control in Bagram, Afghanistan,” from which he was sent to Guantánamo in 2002. There he has remained, yet to be charged with a crime apart from that he “fucked up.” Setting aside the question of complicity, it is shockingly clear from Slahi’s account that torture was routine: “I heard so many testimonies from detainees who didn’t know each other that they couldn’t be lies,” he writes, and his own experiences bear this out. For all we know, torture still is routine: This account dates to before 2005, when his manuscript entered into the realm of formally classified military material, and it is heavily redacted, so much so that one representative page is a sea of black strike-throughs, the surviving text reading “was accompanied by an Arabic interpreter….He was very weak in the language.” Elsewhere, the prison memoir is much like other books of its kind: The guards are infantile brutes, the inmates a cross-section of humanity, and the rules and laws bewildering.
Slahi may or may not be a reliable narrator; readers are called on to suspend disbelief. By his account, of course, he is not guilty. His memoir is essential reading for anyone concerned with human rights and the rule of law.
The story of the Nazis’ international bank robberies.
After World War I, Germany was subject to huge reparations to the Allied victors. High unemployment, inflation and fierce anger over the nation’s defeat generated political and social strife that fueled Hitler’s rise to power. As former Time editor and reporter Taber (In Search of Bacchus: Wanderings in the Wonderful World of Wine Tourism, 2009, etc.) shows in this crisp, well-documented history, lust for gold was integral to Hitler’s military ambitions. In 1933, the Germans had six army divisions, a skeleton air force and only one heavy naval cruiser; by 1939, after raiding Austria and Czechoslovakia, the Nazis had built up their military might to 51 army divisions, including four tank units with 6,000 tanks; 21 air squadrons and 7,000 planes; four battleships, 22 destroyers and four submarines. The nation had also trained and equipped 1.25 million soldiers. Before the invasion of Austria in March 1938, Germany had about $149 million in gold, most in hidden assets. By the end of the war, the Nazis’ stores totaled almost $600 million. Once Hitler’s rampage began, European nations rushed to safeguard their gold stores by sending bullion abroad, much of it to the United States. By early 1940, the U.S. harbored more than 60 percent of the world’s gold. Taber recounts the tense, often frenetic process of secreting these hordes on trains, trucks and boats, sometimes only yards away from the invading Nazis. Some countries, like Norway, succeeded in saving their gold; most did not. Taber emphasizes that “the German war machine would have ground to a halt long before May 1945” without cooperation from Romania, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and Sweden for materiel, and especially from Swiss bankers, who eagerly sold the Nazis Swiss francs with which to pay for vital war products.